By Keysha Drexel
Don’t expect Bobby McAlpine to talk about the virtues of two-story foyers, indoor basketball courts and showy oversized rooms when he kicks off the 2013 Red Diamond Lecture Series at the eighth annual Antiques in The Gardens at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens next month.
The Alabama-born architect, designer and author said instead, he will use his dual roles as the featured lecturer and one of the event’s tastemakers to encourage people to follow their hearts, not trends.
McAlpine will talk about his book “The Home Within Us: Romantic Houses, Evocative Rooms,” which he said is all about creating physical surroundings that reflect inner beauty in a way that will stand the test of time.
“Basically, (the lecture) topic will be about creating the inheritable house–something real that will have an audience for generations to come and will be something people want handed down to them,” McAlpine said.
The author and architect said he will talk about how the main point of the book is expressed in its title.
“Our own hearts are a place where we store all of our treasures and dreams, and when we take a step toward using the inventory of our hearts to create a landscape outside our hearts in the form of a house or a home, we’re freer. We can look at who we are and, spiritually, come to a great rest.”
McAlpine said his lecture at The Gardens will also explore America’s architectural history and its cycles.
“If you look back almost exactly 100 years ago, Victorian architecture in America was in a steep decline. They were these high-maintenance, complex structures that were ultimately abandoned for something more honest, more permanent,” he said.
The reaction to that, McAlpine said, can be seen in the houses in some of Birmingham’s oldest neighborhoods.
“We learned what was beautiful and would be coveted through time. The houses that were built in Birmingham in the 1920s remain some of the best examples of architecture in the country that still resonate with people,” he said.
The cycle that American residential architecture went through 100 years ago is now repeating itself, McAlpine said.
“It’s the same thing when you talk about the McMansions of recent years. Here we are 100 years later, and people have these big houses that all look like they are owned by pro basketball players. Their only appeal is that they are new and huge and flashy,” he said. “Some of that architecture has the future lineage of a used Lincoln Town Car.”
McAlpine said he thinks the pendulum is now swinging in the other direction and people are beginning to see what has always been his philosophy.
“It’s just like in my practice and what I preach. It’s all about houses that are grand in spirit and modest in some other way,” he said.
As the founding principal architect of McAlpine Tankersley Architecture, headquartered in Montgomery, McAlpine said he strives to incorporate that philosophy into his new residential home construction projects.
Now in its 30th year, the firm has offices in Montgomery, Nashville, Atlanta and New York City.
“I never really had a business plan when I started my practice in 1983,” McAlpine said. “I have just always done what I couldn’t help but do.”
And what he has always done is draw houses, McAlpine said.
Born in the small sawmill town of Vrendenburgh in Monroe County, McAlpine said he can remember sketching floor plans as a 5-year-old.
“I starting drawing floor plans as a little boy for who knows what reason other than I felt compelled to do it, and I basically wore my mother out every day of her life by showing her my drawings and asking her to comment on them and tell me what she thought was wrong and right,” he said. “In some form or fashion, I have drawn houses every day of my life.”
McAlpine said his childhood drawings were less about what was in his immediate environment and more about what was in his imagination.
“I lived in a series of small towns growing up, and my appetite, my imagination was lit more from what was missing than what I was being exposed to at that time. I think so many artists are influenced by a kind of anemia more than by what they are shown,” he said.
By the time he went to college at Auburn University, McAlpine said he had lived in 19 houses.
“We were very transient, and that gave me an terrific appetite for change. It also gave me a desire for creating a home,” he said. “So, just as the lunatic becomes the great psychiatrist, I’ve become the go-to person to help people create their homes.”
After high school, McAlpine earned degrees in architecture and interior design and taught architectural design at Auburn University for nine years after he graduated.
“College was the first time I was surrounded by people that I recognized,” he said. “My creativity was really allowed to flourish and develop in that atmosphere.”
His time at Auburn also connected him with people who would become lifelong friends and colleagues, McAlpine said.
“When I started my practice in 1983, I staffed it and found all my business partners through the classrooms at Auburn,” he said.
McAlpine will share his tastemaker duties at Antiques in The Gardens with Cindy Smith, owner of North Carolina’s Circa Interiors and Antiques.
“We’ve known each other for decades. When I was a young man, I was her architect for her house, a home she still lives in today. We are lifelong friends and allies,” he said.
In their “Welcome Home” presentation, McAlpine said, he and Smith will talk about a collection of contemporary and antique finds that have good bones and fine lines and that stand the test of time. A few of those items will include offerings from his handcrafted furniture line, McAlpine Home.
“A lot of it will probably be from the hip and will talk about different design elements and how they blend and why they blend, and we’ll get into the thinking behind what makes for good choices in your home,” McAlpine said.
McAlpine said he will be glad to be back in Birmingham, a city he said adores.
“I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the South with so many contiguous, gorgeous neighborhoods,” he said. “If you are clever, it is possible to live and work in Birmingham without ever seeing anything ugly.”
After his stop in Birmingham next month, McAlpine will be back on the road to work on his architectural and design projects across the country and to promote a new book that will officially be released in March. Called “Art of the House: Reflections on Design,” the book is a collaboration with Susan Ferrier, McAlpine’s interior design partner at McAlpine Booth & Ferrier Interiors.
A follow-up to the bestselling “The Home Within Us,” the book profiles a selection of houses that resonate with McAlpine’s firm’s nuanced aesthetic.
“I have done so many new houses since the beginning of my practice, and we had a lot of great photography and thought we should do a book,” he said.
Even though “Art of the House” hasn’t officially been released, McAlpine is not resting on his laurels when it comes to expanding his role as an author.
“Oh, honey, this (book) will just be a place saver compared to what we have coming,” he said. “We’ve got a big one brewing.”
McAlpine will give his lecture at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 in the Linn-Henley Lecture Hall at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Admission to the lecture is $30 and includes admission to Antiques at The Gardens, which will feature tastemakers and antique dealers from around the country. To reserve seats for the lecture, visit www.bbgardens.org. For more information, call 414-3965.